Editorial: Voting concerns

With elections fast approaching, many unsettled issues still plague the Kansas voting system.

Lawrence Journal-World opinion section

A court document related to one of several legal challenges to the Kansas voter registration laws contends that the voting rolls in Kansas are in “chaos.”

That description, which came from the American Civil Liberties Union, may not be an exaggeration.

The status of the dual election system created by Secretary of State Kris Kobach– one for voters who registered with a state form and one for voters who used a federal form — remains in doubt. The seamless process that Kobach promised state legislators would transfer citizenship information automatically from the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles to the secretary of state has never been implemented. In the meantime, tens of thousands of potential Kansas voters have had their registrations placed “in suspense,” most because they don’t include proof-of-citizenship documentation.

With just three months to go before the August primary elections, the status of voting in Kansas does seem a bit chaotic.

The Associated Press recently looked at various court cases and documents related to the Kansas election system. Key among those is the battle over the voting rights of Kansans who register using a federal form that, at least in most states, requires only that voters sign a sworn statement that they are citizens. Based on an earlier ruling that Kansas couldn’t alter the federal form to conform with the state’s proof-of-citizenship law, Kobach created a dual election system that allowed people who filed with the federal form to vote only in presidential and congressional elections.

In January, a Shawnee County judge ruled that Kobach had no right to bar voters registered with the federal form from voting in local and state elections. Two weeks later, the new executive director of the U.S. Elections Commission — without consulting the commissioners — decided to require proof of citizenship on federal voter registration forms in Kansas. That action also is being challenged in court.

Is everyone keeping up?

Also of interest is the number of people whose registrations are being held up because they don’t include citizenship proof. Court documents provided a snapshot of how that system is working. More than 22,000 people submitted voter registration applications between Feb. 1 and Feb. 21, but only 7,444 of those included proof of citizenship. The rest went on the “in suspense” list. Those voters will have 90 days to provide citizenship proof before their applications are tossed out.

Kobach and others point to how easy it is to complete a registration by emailing a copy of a birth certificate or passport to the secretary of state. That process, however, would have been even easier if the system to transfer information from driver’s license offices was in place.

The proof-of-citizenship law was promoted as necessary to address a problem with illegal voting in Kansas. Since last year, when he obtained the power to prosecute such cases on his own, Kobach has pursued a handful of cases involving qualified voters who voted in more than one location. None of the cases have related to non-citizens attempting to register or vote.

This year, Kansans will fill all of the seats in the Kansas Legislature and elect four U.S. House members and one U.S. senator. They also will select county officials and help elect a new U.S. president. These are important elections that demand maximum attention and participation, and it would be tragic if the confusion surrounding Kansas voting laws results in reduced participation by Kansas voters.